For the last five years, Leon Gallery has been a delightful presence on the Denver art scene, showcasing contemporary artists from Denver and beyond and encouraging them to bring their newest innovative work. This month the original founder, Eric Robert Dallimore, will hand over the reins in order to pursue different interests, with a send-off party January 5 from 6-10 p.m. at the gallery (1112 East 17th Avenue). Eric Nord and Allison Bartholomew will be taking over, continuing to focus on unique creative experiences and viewer-artist engagement. Because Dallimore created such a token in the Denver art community, 303 sat down with him to discuss his experiences with the gallery and his advice for other artists and art lovers.
303 Magazine: What brought you to Denver from New Orleans in the first place?
Eric Robert Dallimore: I first came here for a quick six-month vacation in the mountains, but then started working for a graphic design company in Denver and started commuting a lot. I would come to town for the weekend and started seeing this really amazing art scene happening, and that was in 2005. Back then, it was different but evolving into what it is today, with RiNo and Santa Fe and the MCA, everything was blossoming. I decided to stick around for a bit, and worked with Madeline and Joshua Weiner, who are both public artists, and created huge sculptures. I just realized after that that I could stick into this smaller community, a more malleable one, and I could have more of an impact than somewhere like New York.
At this space, I worked for a photographer for a few years before he decided to move and he asked if I wanted the space. I made some minor renovations in here and asked my old friend, Matthew Buford and his friend Lindsay McWilliams if they wanted to partner with me. For a few years, we worked together until I took it over by myself. After about a year of doing that I realized I needed a partner and found Eric Nord, and then later Allison Bartholomew, both of whom will be taking over for me when I leave.
303: What is your favorite part about being the Creative Director here?
ERD: As an artist, it was developing a community that I could spend time with and understand. In my own personal practices, it taught me a lot. But as a curator, it was all about meeting these amazing, hungry, hard-working, intelligent artists and giving them all the tools they needed and help them flourish. All the success we had as a gallery I was excited about not for myself, but because I could really help the artists more. I just loved helping badass artists achieve and get other people to see their work. Also, the studio visits are really fun. Getting to see the artists when they’re having good nights and when they’re having doubtful moments. And to share wine or coffee with them and just talk about their art.
“I just loved helping badass artists achieve and get other people to see their work.”
303: What kind of changes or evolution have you witnessed in the Denver art scene since you’ve been a curator at Leon Gallery?
ERD: As a gallery owner, I’ve seen more and more artists here in Denver, and they’re feeling more confident. That being said, there is a conversation that needs to happen about the higher rents and the DIY art spots getting kicked out. For us personally as a gallery, when we first started, we couldn’t have enough shows. We were booked out for a year and a half and we were always showing new artists. For the last few years we have realized the importance of continuing to be an open space, but we also have been refining a core group of twelve artists, who we are starting to consider “Leon artists.” We want to support certain artists, but we also want to leave space for new and upcoming ones as well.
303: Did you have any favorite exhibitions or artists?
ERD: Well, that’s difficult because it’s like being a father, where all my children are my favorites. With that being said, there are a few who really stand out. Jonathan Saiz, with The Deep End, was a really perfect send-off for me. It has been a culmination of all the shows. We also had some great new up-and-comers, like Tia Anthony. But honestly, I think one of the most important artists in Denver, or Colorado, or the country or anywhere right now is Diego Rodriguez Warner. Diego is incredible, his work is incredible, where he’s coming from, his lifestyle. He’s really an artist. I want to see him flourish.
303: What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue something similar to this in Denver, whether it be starting their own gallery or working for another one?
ERD: Persistence is the biggest thing. I think anybody who’s working in the arts in any capacity needs to realize that they can’t delude themselves into thinking they will be the absolute best, one of the rare and few world-famous artists. If doing it is what you love, and it’s your true, true passion, then do it. The world needs that passion in order to have these kinds of things come about. Be honest with yourself that you’re doing it for the love of the craft, but don’t romanticize that too much. Understand you might wake up one day thinking that your beautiful Bohemian lifestyle needs to be funded by something. Don’t just give your art away, fight the good fight and tell people that your work is valued.
There are two different models in galleries; one is commercial, the other is art for art’s sake. It doesn’t make sense to me that the commercial spaces decide to sell art, because if you want to just sell things you’d think they would choose to sell something that everyone needs. The art for art’s sake galleries are the ones that push the conversation forward, which I think Denver needs right now. Do it and hope that the money will follow, which is always what we focused on. We wanted to show more critical work than focus on selling pieces.
“anybody who’s working in the arts in any capacity needs to realize that they can’t delude themselves into thinking they will be the absolute best… If doing it is what you love, and it’s your true, true passion, then do it. The world needs that passion.”
303: What is something you will miss about Denver?
ERD: Community built around art. The hardest thing will be the friends I made here and the community I will be leaving. A lot of people think that because the art scene here is small, it must be competitive, but it’s actually the exact opposite. We meet, we talk, we push and evolve the scene together. I have made the most incredible friends here as an artist, a person and a curator. It will be so damn hard to leave it all. I recently went to change my email signature, which had everything to do with Leon, and deleted the whole thing but my name. It left this empty space and it made me think for a moment, ‘who am I now?’ I am redefining myself, and though I won’t be the owner of this gallery anymore, I am definitely not done with art.
Read our coverage of exhibitions shown at Leon Gallery during Eric R. Dallimore’s years as Curator: